Hazmat recalls how she came to discover her powers. It was all so perfect. She was on the honor roll and on track for a scholarship without selling her soul to conform. Her parents weren’t crazy. Boring, maybe, but in a good way… the way that brings home lots of money to spend on the kids. She had a DVR, iPad, a platinum card with a four-figure limit and pretty much everything she wanted. And, she had Greg. He was cute and funny and romantic. She didn’t know if they were in love but they were as close as you can get at sixteen in the twenty-first century. It was perfect, until one day, it wasn’t.
Fumbling around on his bed the couple kissed, but Greg quickly sat up and coughed, wiping his mouth. She asked if he was okay and he replied that he was fine. He just swallowed wrong. Jenny asked if he was sure. He looked a little green. He replied that he’d been waiting for this moment since he figured out that girls weren’t just for throwing spitballs at. He wanted it to be perfect and wanted it to be with her. He wasn’t going to let a tickle in his throat ruin it for them. Jenny grabbed him and kissed him again, but this time Greg pulled back and his eyes betrayed his shock. He then fell to the floor, foaming at the mouth as Jenny stood over him, just as much in shock as Greg was.
Visiting a doctor, it turned out that Greg was in a coma caused by some kind of neurotoxin. At first, everyone was worried that Jenny had been exposed to it too until they realized that the toxin actually came from her. Then, everyone ran away. Her body was seething with deadly substances. Her spit could kill a lab rat. She was the all-American girl one day and a walking W.M.D. the next. The doctors said the trigger event for her powers was probably the excitement of being with Greg. ‘Safe sex’ was not an option where she was concerned.
She didn’t even have to look outside to know San Francisco was a sanctuary for mutants. Too bad for her that she wasn’t a mutant. She was just a freak. Greg woke a week later. He didn’t want to see her and she couldn’t really blame him. Her parents wanted to sue. They said Roxxon, where they worked, exposed her to something when she was little that caused all this. Greg’s parents wanted her arrested and the doctors wanted to write about her in their journals. The one thing that nobody wanted was to get anywhere near her… except Norman Osborn.
He said she was special and that he could fix her; show her how to control her powers by turning them off and on again. He said she could either stay where she was, getting prodded and poked by idiots, or she could go with him. She went, but he lied. He didn’t fix her. In fact he made matters worse. He had Baron Von Blitzschlag experiment on her and turned her into what she is now - powers jacked up high she could level a city; trapped in a suit for the rest of her life so she doesn’t kill anyone. Making sure she doesn’t get too close to the others in case it gets punctured, making her like a damn leper. Sure, she has anger issues, and she doesn’t think primal scream therapy will help because she doesn’t think she’d ever stop.
The students train against weird green, mantis-like robots. Whilst Hazmat, Mettle and Striker take them on, she notices Finesse and Striker enjoying a kiss nearby. Finesse tells Humberto that he’s finally kissed a girl and everyone noticed. She hopes this makes up for her embarrassing him. Humberto reckons it does. Mettle asks him how it was. “Weird,” he replies. Striker calls over to Finesse and tells her that there are a couple of things he’s never done. She replies that if it’s up to her, he never will. Veil recons they look cute together, but Hazmat isn’t so accommodating. She reckons they might as well buy him one of those human-sized anime pillows. They’d bring more passion to the relationship.
Ken asks her not to be such a buzzkill. If she’s feeling left, out he’ll kiss her. She reminds him that he doesn’t have lips and Ken agrees, but then adds that she doesn’t see him harshing on anyone else’s vibe just because he can’t share it. Hazmat turns on him and tells him she’ll harsh on his ugly face! Veil asks them to calm down before Justice appears and asks if everything’s all right. He uses his telekinetic power to raise Hazmat and Mettle off the ground, but Jenny informs him that it’s just teenage drama. He shouldn’t worry about it. Can he put them down now?
Justice replies that he wanted to give them a heads up. Do they remember how Dr. Pym said their faculty could be anyone who’s ever been an Avenger? Well, they’ll have guest instructors over the next couple of days and Friday they’re taking a field trip to the Raft. It’s the premier detention facility for superhuman criminals. One of the Avengers, Luke Cage, is helping run it. They figure it’s their best first encounter with the bad guys while they’re behind bars. So, can they save their fighting for the sparring sessions?
Iron Fist takes the class in intermediate hand-to-hand combat. As he spars with Finesse, Reptil comments that it’s awesome about the Raft. They’ve got to be starting to trust them if they’d let them in there. Hazmat asks if he’s really that dense. She explains that Luke Cage is in charge of the Thunderbolts program. They try to rehabilitate bad guys. This isn’t a field trip. It’s ‘scared straight.’ Striker reckons she’s right. He had it at his school for the ‘at risk’ kids. You bring youthful offenders into a prison and a bunch of inmates hoping to earn privileges scare the hell out of ‘em. They yell at them about riots and getting shanked and what happens when you drop soap in the shower. They’re trying, he adds, to scare them into being heroes because they think it’s the only way it’ll stick.
Meanwhile, Iron Fist has Finesse in a body lock. He informs them that there’s a difference between replicating an opponent’s technique and knowing when and why they’re used. He tells Finesse that her physical skills are impressive, but her spiritual education is the key to realizing her potential as a warrior and as a human being. Hazmat whispers to Striker, thinking it’s rich that Mister ‘I wish I was an Asian’ is preaching spiritual purity while their sensei’s lie to them every chance they get. Striker agrees. They haven’t even done anything and they’re putting them on the same level as mass murderers like Crossbones and Norman freakin’ Osborn.
Hazmat is surprised when he mentions Osborn is locked up at the Raft. Striker tells her it was all over TMZ. Jenny thinks about it. She and Osborn in a jail full of homicidal maniacs. She apologizes to Mettle and tells him he’s right. They have a lot in common and should be helping each other instead of getting all Maury Povich. Mettle replies that it’s cool. As she watches Iron Fist kick Reptil in the face, everything is right in her world once more.
Tigra and Hank Pym discuss the visit to the Raft. Tigra asks if Hank’s sure it’s safe. They’re just kids after all. Hank replies that Luke assured him that security at the prison is impregnable. He’ll be on site as well just in case something happens. He asks how the guest instructors are working out. Tigra says they’re great. Mettle and Reptil spent the last two days putting on pyjamas and imitating Iron Fist and he’s got Valkyrie in a special session with the girls as they speak.
Tigra is pleased because studies show that girls thrive in single-sex classrooms, especially at subjects society deems ‘male.’ Math, science… armed combat. She wants them to meet women who’ve gone toe-to-toe with the Red Hulk and lived. Hank says he’s familiar with the research and he’s all for it. He just wants to make sure Val knows that she’s teaching them combat.
Valkyrie is holding court before Veil, Hazmat and Finesse. In her own inimitable tone and holding a stein of mead, she proceeds to tell them that men will inevitably disappoint them, intellectually, on the battlefield and, most of all, in the bedchamber. She explains that many of the Valkyrie embrace a vow of chastity. It does wonders for focusing a warrior’s mind on what’s truly important. Cleaving Skulls! But, she recognizes that it can be difficult, especially for youths to ignore the natural appetites of the healthy female body. She is pleased to report that one need not turn to a male for satisfaction in this area. “Mortal men have devised…”
Tigra rushes in and cries out Val’s name, stopping her before she goes that one step too far. She asks Val what she’s doing. She’s supposed to be teaching them to fight. Valkyrie replies that she is. She’s teaching them to fight the oppression of the phallocentric society they live in. She points to the three steins of mead sitting before the girls and asks if she’s crazy. They’re teenagers! She replies that, at their age, an Asgardian sword-maiden has eviscerated rock trolls by the score.
As they discuss matters, Hazmat whispers to Veil and mentions that she was tortured by Osborn too, right? She doesn’t need a response as Striker saw her file and told him she was. She knows that Veil’s powers are killing her and some day she’ll fade away because of what Osborn did to her. Veil admits that it’s true. Jenny mentions that they’re going to the Raft tomorrow where they’re holding him. She reckons they should pay Osborn a visit when they get there and tell him to tell them how to get back to normal. Does she want in? Veil isn’t sure. What if he can’t? What if he won’t? Hazmat replies that he will. She’ll make him.
Tigra informs them that they’re going to move into the sparring room and no, they can’t take their mead. She asks Hazmat not to worry about her suit. They have wooden swords for her. Hazmat asks Veil to let her know. Soon.
(Infinite Avengers Mansion Hangar)
Hank gives them one last pointer before they head to the Raft. They shouldn’t touch anything or speak to any of the inmates unless instructed to. Tigra adds that they must not look at the Purple Man’s face or read his lips... especially the girls. If they hear voices in their head or feel strange urges, they should alert the teachers immediately. Striker is a little blasé and says they all saw Silence of the Lambs. Quicksilver warns him that this is not a joke. They have to muzzle Crossbones to keep him from using his own teeth as projectile weapons. They will listen and do as they are told.
Mettle turns to Hazmat and says Veil told him about her master plan. She thought they all have something in common. Jenny asks what he thinks. Mettle replies that he thinks it would be nice to have lips. Nearby, Hank informs Justice that if Speedball’s not ready they’ll have to leave without him. Vance asks him to give him a second.
Justice pays Robbie a visit and tells him he doesn’t have to do this. Robbie replies that he does. He mentions that Vance spent time in prison, too. He faced his mistakes and moved on from them. If he’s ever gonna put his time as Penance behind him, he has to do the same thing. Vance assures him that he won’t have to do it alone. Robbie appreciates it and asks if he can have a minute. Vance leaves and Robbie rolls up his sleeve to reveal all the scars up his arms. He makes one more cut and rolls his sleeve back down.
(later at the Raft maximum security federal penitentiary)
The Academy teachers and students arrive and are greeted by Luke Cage, standing in the pouring rain. He leads them inside past cells containing some of the most heinous individuals the country has to offer. He leads them past the cells of the Mandrill and Grizzly and they both make lewd comments. Veil asks Luke if he’s certain they can’t get out. Striker mentions that the place does seem to have a reputation as a revolving door for these freaks. Luke replies that it did before but now the whole island’s surrounded by a force field. They’ve got power dampeners specially tailored for each inmate and A.I. controlled guns. They learned a lesson from Electro’s little coming out party back in the day and backed up the high tech with low tech. Nobody’s getting out of there… not in one piece, anyway.
Reptil looks inside a cell and reckons it’s the ones who don’t say anything that freak him out. Luke agrees. The crazies stay with you. Reptil says it’s not Vermin. It’s Crossbones. Can he make him stop looking at him. “Make him stop!” Luke leads them away from there and asks him not to be ashamed. He’s been around a long time and there are days he doesn’t want to set foot in the place. But, there’s a reason he stays. He points to a sign and informs them that the Thunderbolts program has always been about redemption. These days it’s a chance for inmates to turn their lives around. It doesn’t matter how messed up they are or what kinda hell they’ve been through; the only thing that determines where they go from there is them. He would like them to talk to a few of them but warns them to be ready for the answers.
The first person they see is the Ghost. He informs them that prison is an unpleasant place. Imagine being surrounded by your inferiors, persecuted for your intellect and for being a free thinker. Of course, he adds, that’s what the prison-industrial complex does. It perpetuates and enriches itself by incarcerating anyone who challenges their power structure. He asks who profits from all this. He begins to ramble on about Tony Stark’s involvement in the Bilderberg Group and the Illuminati, but Luke grabs him and tells him that’s enough. Someone hasn’t been taking their meds.
They move on to the Juggernaut, who tells them that his old man didn’t drink coffee. He woke up by beating the hell out of him. All he ever wanted, he explains, was power. Enough power so no one could ever push him around again. He got it and it didn’t change a damn thing. Guys like his dad and his brother, the punks who run the Raft… they’ve been pushing him around all his life. When you’re wired to think like a victim, that’s all you’ll ever be. He doesn’t care what they’ve been through. If they let fear pull their strings and decide what they do, they’re as much a prisoner as anyone there.
Next, they go and see Moonstone. She tells Speedball that they miss him in the Thunderbolts but it’s good to see him again, even in his ridiculous outfit. It’s so not him. He replies that she had her chance to decide what was him when she drugged and brainwashed him. Unlike her, he got better and moved on. She asks if that’s why, in that case, he’s threatening her with the blue kinetic energy he used as Penance. She says Speedball’s energy signature was orange as she recalls. Robbie has no reply to that, so Hank tells Dr. Sofen that’s enough. She’s there to provide her opinion as a psychiatrist only. Any other comments will earn a week in solitary. She’s had the chance to observe the students. What does she think?
Karla replies that they’re a damaged little group. Hank admits that they’ve been through trauma, thanks to her friend Norman Osborn. But, he wants to hear how she thinks they’ll function on the team. Moonstone reckons they’ll fit in perfectly. It makes a girl want to reform the Masters of Evil and storm Avengers headquarters again. An angry Tigra grabs Moonstone around the neck as she asks, sarcastically, if he meant will the fit in as Avengers? She thinks there’s one silver lining. They’ll make everyone forget what a mess he is. Hank asks Tigra to get her out of there. Meanwhile, Reptil raises his hand and Juggernaut asks what he needs to know. Humberto asks meekly, “Um… could you say ‘nothing can stop the Juggernaut?” Cain sighs. “Sure.”
Hazmat, unseen by all, uses her energy manipulation to cut the lights. Hank warns Juggernaut not to make a move but he tells Hank that, if he wanted to leave, he’s not going to stop him. Justice asks Quicksilver if he can give them a recon. He replies that he might break his neck in the dark. He was under the impression this wasn’t meant to happen there. Hank tries operating some of his equipment but nothing works. He figures they’ve been hit with an electromagnetic pulse. He explains that his pockets are actually portals to subatomic dimensions so he should have working devices in seconds. He adds that their first priority is to ensure the safety of the students. Quicksilver asks if he’d be so kind as to get the door for him, but they realize that it’s been torn off its hinges.
Pietro asks Luke what happened but Luke says he’s not sure. He thought it was Juggernaut. Nearby, Reptil tells Finesse and Striker that it must have been Mettle. He’s missing and so are Hazmat and Veil. The three missing students make their way through the facility and come to Crossbones’ cell. Hazmat asks where Osborn’s cell is. He asks why but is met with a glowing fist. “One floor down, third cell on the left,” he replies. He asks her to do him a favor and leave the doors open so he can hear the screams.
They soon find themselves standing before Osborn. “Well, aren’t you a sight,” he says upon seeing them. He tells Hazmat that they didn’t know she could generate an electromagnetic pulse, did they? He did and he knew she’d learn but he admits he’s surprised at how soon she did it. He couldn’t be more proud. He mentions that they have EMP shielded backup systems which will go online in minutes. Hazmat replies coldly, “That’s okay. You’ll be dead by then.”